Friday, November 6, 1998 Published at 21:43 GMT
Senior Tibetan abbot quits China
The abbot led one of the mot important monasteries in China
A senior Tibetan Buddhist abbot has left China and is reported to have gone into exile in the United States.
Arjia Rinpoche was abbot of one of Tibetan Buddhism's four most important monasteries - the Kumbum monastery in China's Qinghai province - and is known in China as a living Buddha, the reincarnation of a senior Tibetan monk. .
The abbot also held high-ranking positions in the Chinese hierarchy as vice-president of the state-controlled Buddhist Association and a standing committee member of the government-appointed advisory body to China's parliament.
Arjia Rinpoche, is one of the most senior Tibetans to have left the country since the Dalai Lama went into exile in 1959.
Disagreement with government
In the last couple of years, China has been waging a campaign to purge Tibetan monasteries of Dalai Lama supporters.
China accuses the Dalai Lama, who lives in exile in Northern India, of being a "splitist " intent on gaining independence for Tibet.
Arjia Rinpoche was also a close associate of the late Panchen Lama, who before his death in 1989 was China's highest-ranking Tibetan Buddhist leader.
The BBC correspondent in Beijing, James Miles, says the incident is likely to be a considerable embarrassment for the Chinese government.
It is not known how the abbot left the country and he has kept a low profile since he left.